Yesterday Doug and I spent the day at the home of a friend of a friend ... killing chickens.
Every year they do 20 chickens in the spring, and then whatever is left over from the group the last weekend in June. Doug participated in the spring kill, and the chickens were all about 2 pounds max. They get them go to this point and they become roasters and fryers, 8-12 pounds max.
It's amazing how much they can grow in a short period of time.
Last year Doug indicated to his friend that he wanted to work on learning something useful, in case there is an EMP, a zombie apocalypse, some sort of catastrophe.
Knowing how to do this and do it correctly is important. Also, we both feel that it is important to be part of the process of bringing food to the table. We "farm" at home with tomatoes and other veg. Learning how to bring meat to the table is an important thing. I think both Anthony Bourdain and Andrew Zimmern have expressed that Americans need to be more in touch with that process, that bringing food to the table process, and everyone should do this at least once.
I went along because I have a co-worker at the cooking school who is doing a TV show on local foods, farmers markets, locavores, farming, and I wanted to get exposed to this and ... take pictures. For the experience.
I put the pictures up in Flickr, and made them visible only to me. I promised them I would not publish the photos or identify them to others because they don't want flak from the neighbors about what they do on their own land. And in exchange for letting me take the pictures and participate I am happy to honor their request.
Suburban Boston can be so progressively hip AND restrictive at the same time.
49 chickens started the day upright and 49 chickens ended the day in coolers.
What did I do? I personally used the machine that de-feathers the chickens. I also removed feet and heads. I did not participate in the killing portion of things, but left that to the professionals so it would be swift and over with, rather than stupid and me fumbling through the process like a novice, thus causing further suffering to the birds. I also didn't participate in eviscerating, because it is hard, messy, and I just ... didn't wanna.
In addition to the owners of the farm requesting anonymity, I also do not want to post any of the pictures here because I have a lot of friends who are intensely sensitive, this would shock or upset them, and I want to protect them... even though I think it is super important to be non-protected from this sort of thing. That they need to know where their food comes from.
But here is one picture, of me, because I have no self-restrictions.
That's me and a chicken head. Which I removed from said chicken in front of me.
We live in a shrink-wrapped world, where giant farms of thousands of chickens suffer and get thrown into machines and tortured to meet their fate.
During the heat wave in the last week or so, about 10 chickens died at this farm. They are very sensitive to the heat and stress. So you can just imagine the huge loss of chickens that happens at a giant farm of thousands during a heat wave like this. The farm owners worked hard to run fans and keep the chickens cool. I talked to them extensively about care of the chickens, from start to finish, cleaning the pen, and other care issues. They were very sad about losing the chickens that they lost, because right from the start, they have cared for them this whole time. It's a loss. It was very clear from the outset that this was a ground level honest process. Here, everything was done carefully, respectfully, cleanly.
Apologies for what I'm about to tell you but it goes like this:
Basically, the way it works is they have a station of 4 chambers, they put a chicken in upside down, "debrain" it by puncturing the roof of its mouth and killing it. Then they slit the throat, let it bleed out. The chicken goes over to a machine where it first gets a hot soak in 140 degree temperature water to loosen up the wax that holds the feathers in. The machine defeathers 99% percent of the feathers. Chicken then goes into a cold soak rinse, and is brought up to the table to have the feet removed and the head removed. The chicken is then put into an ice bath, which makes the insides solid, and easier to remove after it comes down to temperature. That is called eviscerating. The giblets, neck and other bits are bagged, and everything is weighed together and recorded. These chickens were anywhere from 6 to 11 pounds.
In the end, this is how the chickens looked. Not much different from the shrink wrapped universe, but the getting there was a lot more labor intensive (and funny really with this crowd).
Doug roasted one tonight and compared to the chickens we got at the end of May which were more Cornish Hen sized, this was a transcendent experience.
Price per pound I think it is a lot more expensive that the shrink wrapped, grocery store kind of roaster chicken, but ... wow.
Humbling process to take part in, really fantastic and beautiful people that we spent the day with, and I'm glad I did it, even though I can't post pictures of it for you to see.